Omicron Variant May Be Mild But Is Spreading Fast & Is Now Responsible For Most New Cases

The omicron variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in South Africa in November of 2021, now accounts for at least three-quarters of all new cases of the virus in the United States. The new variant has been reported in nearly every state, and accounts for up to 90% of new cases in some areas of the country, like New York. And although the CDC and scientists have said that the variant seems milder than others, it is the most contagious Covid-19 variant thus far, prompting some countries to re-impose lockdowns. 

Omicron’s Emergencegreen virus with dna sequence behind it

The omicron variant arrived in the US around Thanksgiving time, and less than a month later it had already accounted for around 73% of cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They have suggested that this variant of the virus is spreading more easily because it’s possible that a smaller amount of omicron is required to cause an infection. 

Omicron’s Symptoms

The symptoms of the omicron variant are mild enough that many people are overcoming it, especially if they are both vaccinated and boosted. Still, some people are experiencing long Covid after being infected with the variant, especially if they are unvaccinated or have not received a booster shot. 

The symptoms of this variant tend to come on more quickly after infection than with other variants, typically 3 days after exposure. “It’s mostly that runny nose, sore throat, and nasal congestion,” says Dr. John Vanchiere, the associate director of the Center for Emerging Viral Threats at LSU Health Shreveport. “The cough is milder [than previous variants] if there’s any cough at all, and fever seems to be a little less common.”

Doctors are saying that, even though the symptoms associated with omicron are mild, some people are experiencing symptoms for an extended period of time, a phenomenon known as long Covid. Most people that experience this will probably not die from Covid but could be left with debilitating symptoms that might be permanent. For example, around 30% of Covid-19 patients are experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome, which can be a lifelong disability. 

“While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as ‘mild,'” said the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Thursday. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people and it is killing people.”

Indeed, hospitalizations across the U.S. now stand at more than 126,000 per day, and more than 1 in every 4 ICU beds is filled with a Covid-19 patient, according to the latest data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Countries Locking Downcaution tapes with quarantine and corona on it

Some countries have responded to this new and highly contagious variant by reinstating lockdowns. For example, the Netherlands is locking down again, and Hong Kong authorities have announced a 2-week ban on flights from the U.S. and 7 other countries. The two-week ban will be in effect until January 21, and includes flights from Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain, and the United States.

When Will Omicron Peak?

Epidemiologists have created a mathematical model projecting omicron’s spread, which predicts that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but that a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization. They also say that the long-term implications of omicron remain unknown, but in the near term, everyone should expect a month of intense disruption.

CDC Approves COVID Boosters For All Adults

While there are growing concerns all over the world about a new Covid variant known as Omicron, health experts here are still urging calm and continuing to encourage as many Americans as possible to get vaccinated. Vaccines continue to prove effective against the virus, and there is no evidence yet that they will not protect us from the new strain of the virus. There is, though, some worry that the effectiveness of the vaccines begins to lessen over time, so older and immunocompromised patients have been eligible for booster doses for some time now. But now,  as health experts begin to focus on the severity of the new variant, the CDC has given the green light to administer Covid-19 vaccine boosters to all adults. 

a crowd of different colored silhouette of people
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices changed their policy on Covid-19 vaccines, allowing all adults to get booster shots.

The Expansion

At the end of October, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to change their policy on Covid-19 vaccines, approving booster shots for everyone, and not just for people 50 and older, or those who are immunocompromised. Now, the only requirements to receive a booster are that individuals must be 18 or older, and must be at least six months past their last dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two months past a single-shot vaccine. 

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said of the decision,  “After critical scientific evaluation, today’s unanimous decision carefully considered the current state of the pandemic, the latest vaccine effectiveness data over time, and review of safety data from people who have already received a COVID-19 primary vaccine series and booster. Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays. Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose.”

Who Should Get A Third Dose?

Individuals are still considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but booster shots are recommended to increase protection, especially among people who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe Covid. illustration of 3 vaccine shots and viruses above the shot

For most people, these boosters should be given 6 months after being fully vaccinated; those with moderately to severely compromised immune systems, or who are living in a long-term care setting, should receive a full dose of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine at least 28 days after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It is recommended that the third dose be from the same manufacturer as the first two, although the CDC has approved the mixing and matching of boosters.

For individuals who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, boosters shots are recommended for those who are 18 and older, and were vaccinated two or more months ago. 

As of now, no one knows what is going on with the new Covid variant Omicron, and there have been no cases detected in the U.S. yet,  but the CDC and health experts are urging Americans to continue to get vaccinated to better protect themselves and others.